- Associated Press - Friday, February 20, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday proposed detailed ethics reforms meant to restore trust in state government by requiring officials to detail all outside income and everybody who pays them more than $1,000.

The Democrat also proposed a new system of compensating lawmakers for travel expenses that would require them to submit actual receipts for meals, transportation and lodging. Under the current system, lawmakers are paid a flat travel per diem payment of $172.

“We must bring sunlight to ethical shadows,” Cuomo said in a prepared statement. “New Yorkers deserve nothing less.”

The proposals come in the form of amendments to Cuomo’s $142 billion state budget proposal. Their insertion in the spending proposal means lawmakers would have to reject large portions of the budget to defeat them. There’s still time for lawmakers to attempt to negotiate the changes with Cuomo, however, before they vote on the budget.

Current annual income reporting consists of broad income categories and little about the outside work done by statewide elected officials of New York’s 213 legislators.

The governor would require reporting all actual services performed for outside compensation and any connections to state government. Lawyers, real estate agents and certain other professionals would have to file detailed reports.

The proposals follow ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s indictment on federal charges he took $4 million in kickbacks disguised as legal fees over a decade, in return for providing state grants to a medical clinic that referred patients to one law firm and real estate legislation beneficial to a developer who brought business to another law firm.

Silver, who has kept his Assembly seat but lost the leadership post he held for 20 years, has denied the allegations.

However, his case has increased calls for more ethics reforms, including proposals to cap legislators’ outside income, prohibit it while raising their base pay, or require more disclosures and transparency.

Many good-government groups have cited the rules governing members of Congress - who are paid more but who are limited in what outside income they may make.

“A final agreement should be based on the congressional model for limiting outside income and ensure that New York’s elected officials serve only one master - the public,” said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

He said the proposed disclosures are an improvement from the status quo but don’t do enough to restrict lawmakers’ ability to use their public offices for private gain.

Legislators are paid $79,500 annually for work considered part-time. The Legislature’s annual session typically runs from January to June, though many also work with constituents during the other months and many have no outside income.

In Cuomo’s proposal, they would be barred from any kind of outside compensation in connection with pending legislation.

Also, violators could be prosecuted and lose longstanding state pensions.

Only their documented travel expenses would be reimbursed, instead of broad unspecified per diem payments.

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